Thursday, June 11, 2009

The pros and cons of comparing prospects to pros

Regardless of the sport, drafting a player is never a simple process (unless, of course, we are talking Steven Strasburg or LeBron James).

Was he a product of the system he played in? Do his skills translate to the professional level? Does he have the work ethic to reach his potential? Is he a law-abiding citizen? Does he have any friends with benefits?

As each sport's draft nears, and the tension over who your favorite team is going to pick builds, it only makes sense that anyone covering that sport is going to be discussing these prospects. Inevitably, someone is going to eventually compare the prospect to another player in the league.

Daily Thunder took a look at who some recent draft picks were compared too. Some of the funnier ones:

O.J. Mayo was tagged as another Chauncey Billups. Except for the running an offense, playing point guard, playing great defense, being an incredible leader and taking good shots, I totally see this.
Adam Morrison was seen as a shorter Dirk Nowitzki or even some called him the next Larry Bird. Really. They did. I think a taller Dirk Diggler or the next Larry David would have been closer than those two comparisons.
Greg Oden was compared to lots of great big men, including David Robinson and Bill Russell. Yeeeeeah.
Personally, I do not take much stock in these comparisons. I know, I know. I actually make them. And yes, it is probably a bit unfair to the player, putting unnecessary pressure on him. You think James Harden enjoys the fact that he could be considered a failure if he doesn't turn out to be as good as Manu Ginobili?

So why do I do it? Because comparing a player is a good way to get a feel for the kind of skill set, athleticism, and playing style that prospect has shown throughout his college years. And that is exactly how it should be interpreted.

There are rarely two players who are exactly alike, and the type of player that a prospect turns into depends so much on the system he develops in. Yes, there may be a trait or three in one guy that reminds you of another player (think Ricky Rubio's size and passing ability yielding the Jason Kidd comparisons).

But that doesn't mean Rubio is destined to be the next Jason Kidd. It also doesn't mean he's destined to be the next Jason Hart, either.

What comparisons do is to provide a platform for arguing how good a player will be at the next level.

Case in point. After my breakdown of Jonny Flynn, a friend of mine who happens to be a Syracuse fan, disagreed with my assertion that Flynn's best case scenario in the NBA was Bobby Jackson. His best case scenario? A Jameer Nelson-Chris Paul hybrid.

There is a legitimate argument for both, just as there is a legitimate argument that Flynn could end up being out of the league in five years, a la a Troy Bell or an Omar Cook.

The point is, no one (not even the experts) know what these players can turn into at the next level. So much of it depends on how hard the player works, if he is given a chance to prove himself, if he ever develops the confidence to play in the NBA, etc. Why do you think there was so much written about Durant vs. Oden or Rose vs. Beasley?

For every Manu Ginobili (57th pick in 1999), there is a Michael Olowokandi (1st pick in 1998).

For every Gilbert Arenas or Michael Redd (31st and 43rd pick, respectively, in 2001), there is a Kwame Brown or an Eddie Griffin (1st and 7th pick, respectively, in 2001).

So take these comparisons for what they are worth, argue your case, and then enjoy watching those that do develop into stars so that one day, you can explain why so-and-so will be the next Blake Griffin, not the next Jordan Hill.

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